WASHINGTON — Mining has always been a way of life for families on the Iron Range. Throughout our state’s history mining has not only brought jobs to the region, it has also built our country, from our roads, bridges, buildings and railways to the tanks and ships critical to our nation’s defense. Minnesota’s Iron Range boasts the largest concentration of iron ore in the world, and supplied most of the iron used in World War II.
My own family is part of this tradition. My grandpa worked in the mines in Ely for most of his life. He never graduated from high school but he saved money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to college. I learned the Iron Range values of hard work and perseverance from my parents and grandparents, and I carried them with me to the Senate.
The Iron Range is no stranger to tough times. Throughout its history there have been booms and busts. There is nothing harder on the workers than when a mine closes down. That’s what happened to my grandpa and so many other miners across the Range. But he never gave up, and neither have the people of northern Minnesota.
Right now Minnesota is first in the nation in the movement of iron ore, and in the last five years mining has grown almost 17 percent each year in Minnesota compared to just 2.3 percent nationally. That’s a trend we need to continue.
When it comes to the success of mining in northern Minnesota, it’s critical that companies are able to grow and expand. We need to make sure that projects can advance in a timely manner while meeting permitting requirements to ensure they operate safely and efficiently.
That’s why I recently pushed the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the delay on reviewing permit applications for businesses like Minntac, which is looking to extend the life of its Mountain Iron facility, and help ensure the government doesn’t create unnecessary burdens that stifle success. And that’s why I led the effort in the Senate to push the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the taconite regional haze rule treats our mines fairly and doesn’t hurt jobs in our state.
To stay competitive we also need to pursue innovative technologies that will write a new chapter in the long history of mining in northern Minnesota. I visited Magnetation in Grand Rapids last year and saw the work the company is doing to develop technology to reclaim and recycle iron ore that was left behind from the original era of ore mining on the Range during the 1890s through the 1980s.
This is the type of innovation, along with the copper/nickel projects like PolyMet and Twin Metals, that is bringing jobs back to the Range. Innovative projects will help reduce our reliance on foreign countries for critical resources, which often come from unstable parts of the world.
We also need to make sure the next generation of mines honors the commitment all Minnesotans share to preserve our natural resources for the next generation, something the companies involved in these projects are and must be committed to throughout the permitting process.
I also believe that strengthening our domestic manufacturing base is key to our national security and our ability to make products and export to the world. That’s why I pushed the Department of Defense to require armor steel plate to be melted in America, rather than by foreign competitors. In July of last year they restored the “Made in America” rule, which will help maintain demand for iron ore mined here in the United States. I also fought to include provisions in the 2012 Transportation Bill that boost Buy America provisions and give preference to homemade steel products for infrastructure projects.
For mining to expand in northern Minnesota, we also must make sure we have a strong transportation system and good programs to train our workers. Ports, rail, roads and bridges are all critical to allowing our mines to transport their products efficiently and access markets across the country and around the globe. And to continue our mining operations in an increasingly complex world, we must invest in our workers through worker training and other mining programs like those at Hibbing Community College.
Finally, in order to move forward with any of these economic efforts, we need a strong and steady economy, which means ending the gridlock and brinkmanship in Washington. I believe we are on the cusp of great economic opportunity, and lurching from crisis to crisis and shutting our government down only serves to stall the progress we could be making. We need Democrats and Republicans to come together and focus on solutions that will help, rather than hinder, the country.
This country was built on the backs of miners like my grandpa and so many others who came to Minnesota looking for opportunity and a shot at the American Dream. Mining is an essential part of a “Made in America” economic agenda that will keep this country competitive and keep the Iron Range thriving for generations to come.
Democrat Amy Klobuchar is the senior U.S. senator from Minnesota.